(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Hatred resulting from envy is the consuming passion of which Abel Sanchez is the history. Indeed, because the novel is so dominated by Joaquin Monegro’s envy and hatred of his lifelong acquaintance, Abel, it has often been suggested that hatred is the central character in the work. Moreover, although the novel focuses primarily on Joaquin, it is entitled Abel Sanchez because Joaquin’s identity comes solely from his envy of Abel, thus making Abel the work’s focus.

The narrative is told primarily in the third person, but it is interspersed with sections from Joaquin’s memoirs (or Confession), which serve as his own commentary on what Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo calls Joaquin’s psychological disease or affliction. Since their infancy, Joaquin records, it was always Abel who was the congenial one, while he himself was antipathetic; thus, from the beginning, Joaquin envied him. The bare and understated tone of the novel, as well as its simple and straightforward narrative line, suggests that Unamuno is working with the parable form here, in particular the biblical story of Cain (Jo-Cain) and Abel; thus, because the biblical myth demands it, the story moves relentlessly to an inevitably tragic conclusion.

The difference between the two boyhood friends is made clear when Abel becomes an artist of some repute and Joaquin decides to become a physician in order to rival him in fame. The rift between them becomes most pronounced when Abel marries Joaquin’s cousin, Helena, the woman whom Joaquin desires to wed. Joaquin records that on the night he realized that he could not have Helena, he was born into his life’s hell. From this point on, he is nothing beyond his hatred for Abel. First, he decides to crush Abel’s artistic fame with that of his own as a maker of scientific discoveries, a creator of works of scientific art. He also vows to find a woman of his own with whom he might take refuge from his hatred. Thus he marries Antonia not out of love but out of a need to find a motherly figure to succor him. Antonia marries him because she understands the nature of his obsession and hopes to cure him of it.

The crucial distinction between the two men is ironically emphasized by Abel’s artistic ability, which most see as predominantly technical, even scientific in its approach, and Joaquin’s scientific abilities, which Joaquin...

(The entire section is 978 words.)